A sound awakened me and I sat bolt upright in bed.
What was that ghastly noise?!
As I sat, frozen, not breathing, I listened, willing my ears to pick up even the slightest sound that might indicate I should flee – anywhere – out of my second floor window, if necessary, to avoid the dreadful menace that I now felt must surely lurk nearby. Had it come from upstairs?
It helps to picture the scene if I tell you that my house is built on a steep slope and the entry level is the top floor with 2 floors below that. All the bedrooms and bathrooms are on the middle floor with the entry and living area on the top floor and my music /art room on the lowest level.
So…. I’m quaking in my bed trying to figure out where the frightful noise had come from.
As yet, I wasn’t sure – maybe the downstairs bathroom window had been left open a little, as it sometimes was, to let out the condensation. I desperately tried to recall if I’d shut it – but my mind was too hazy – I had woken with such a start and hadn’t taken a breath since. That thought reminded me to very quickly take in some air, worrying as I did so that it would be the exact moment when the sound recurred – and I’d miss it because I had to bloody breathe!
The oxygen input had helped; now, instead of sitting there in abject fear I was able to process a few thoughts – not many – but it was better than sitting there helplessly waiting for the imagined axe-murderer to appear at my bedroom door and ply his trade.
Yes! I remembered! I had closed the bathroom window.
Now I felt able to take another breath – a half-way decent one this time – and could quickly run through in my mind all the checking and closings I had performed before going to bed a few hours earlier (yes, I’m a little obsessive sometimes about safety).
Now, I thought, no one can be in the house unless they broke in – and surely I’d have heard that. I tried to recall the sound that woke me – was it the sound of someone breaking in? I didn’t think so – but what sort of sound was it? For some reason, it had not been recognizable.
Sometimes possums jumped on the roof but I was pretty sure it wasn’t that – the sound of a battalion of soldiers marching across the roof was all it took to know that the possums were up and about. No, this had been a one-off so far – just the noise that woke me and nothing to follow it up.
This in itself was worrying as it could indicate that an intruder was silently crouching, in the passageway perhaps, waiting for me to be fooled by his silence and sink back onto the sheets only to be cruelly hacked to death as a result of my lack of perseverance.
So – I persevered – not moving a muscle except for taking the occasional breath – and listened intently.
Hang on, I thought, I’ve just decided it didn’t sound like breaking-in, so maybe it came from outside. But try as I might I couldn’t quite convince myself that someone hadn’t broken in quietly and even now was stealthily making his way through the house having first tripped over something on the way.
Tripped? As this last twist, the tripping, came into my mind I remembered something about the noise. It hadn’t been a loud crash or falling noise at all. It had been more of a wail, a loud cry – think! think! I urged myself – try to remember the noise in detail!
At least I was beginning to breathe normally now and felt that if danger did present itself I’d be out of the window like a shot, making sure that I leapt far enough out to catch hold of the skinny tree branch not far from the side of the house. I hoped it would break my fall as I plummeted 15 feet to the ground below – thank God it’s leaf litter I’ll land on, not concrete, I noticed myself thinking.
A cry? He could have stubbed his toe on something – or bumped his shin – or walked into a doorpost.
Wait a minute, I thought, as I desperately sought to re-capture the sound – it wasn’t really a human sound; maybe it was a cat? A cat being strangled more like it, I thought, remembering the ghastly sounds that used to terrify me at night when I was just a kid, in Rocky. I was too young to know what the cats were up to, which was probably just as well, but I’d be woken by the terrible wailing and caterwauling that appeared to be coming from just under my bed; I’d lie frozen, in sheer terror, unable to shut out the terrifying noise, convinced that the demons from hell were just about to come for me. (A Catholic upbringing did have some advantages but the stories about hell were not for the faint-hearted.)
My habit of pulling the bed-clothes up over my head and holding my breath in the hope of convincing the demons that I wasn’t really there gave some comfort but often there was no sleep to be had till the damned cats had finished what they were up to.
It was only years later that I realized that the racket was coming from directly under my bed as the cats would go under the high-blocked Queensland house – they preferred to congregate at my parents’ house presumably because we didn’t have a dog – or our own cat for that matter. My father was not fond of pets.
Still – that sound – what was it?
There had been no repeat that I’d heard – but its un-earthliness sent a shiver through me and made it impossible to ignore.
A wail? Could it have been a bird? One of those nocturnal ones; I quickly ran through in my mind the only nocturnal bird calls I was familiar with; owl, frogmouth, bloody plovers (even though they weren’t nocturnal they managed to make a hell of a racket some nights), curlew (now there’s a possibility, I thought – but on second thoughts I realized that the bush stone curlews were usually up near the reservoir and this sound had been very immediate – in the house no less) and decided against a bird call.
I began to realize that I could not identify what had woken me; I also knew I could never go back to sleep until I knew what had caused it and there was only one way to find out. For the umpteenth time in my life I faced the fact that no one else was going to check out the noise – after all I was alone in the house tonight – but I had always been the one who heard the noise and checked it out – ever since I left home to live with Warren from whom I was now divorced.
When I was young my Dad used to be the one to get up in the night, grab a bit of 4×2 and venture into the darkness to see what was up. Warren on the other hand, almost never heard the noise (or so he said) and was not remotely interested in finding out what had made it even after hearing a vivid description. So I was used to braving the unknown, and the non-existent as often turned out, in the middle of the night.
Will finish this SOON…promise!